Romantic love is saturated with commodification. The socialist premise behind “free love” crumbles when eager competition gets in the way, and in the age of hookup apps, the possibility of free sex represents the liberalization, not the liberation, of love . Alexa Karolinski and Ingo Niermann tackle these questions with army of love (2016), a video campaign featuring a propositional regiment of soldiers of various ages and appearances tasked with solving the lingering social malaise of extreme loneliness. The docu-fiction video is in part a utopian proposition framed by conversations questioning the basic premises of love and justice.
army of love is the third part of Scream from insidean online program of films and accompanying texts convened by Camille Henriot that the eleventh cycle of Artist cinemasa series of long-running online film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.
The film is presented with a text response from Jean-Luc Nivaggioni.
Screaming from the Inside takes place in six episodes airing every Monday from July 18 to August 29, 2022, airing a new film each week accompanied by a commissioned interview or a response published in text form.
Army of Love: A Two-Part Response by Jean-Luc Nivaggioni
I. From Berlin, kindness (For everyone)
The film is shot in Berlin, in a cold and kitsch spa of the 80s, in the heart of the shopping and business district and a stone’s throw from the Zoologischer Garten station, which was for a long time the center of prostitution in the city.
It reports on an artistic social experience that proposes to redistribute love. The participants do not know each other, and meet to exchange moments of intimacy.
I remember seeing this film for the first time in the small vaulted cellar of the KW Institute for Contemporary Art where it was presented during the ninth Berlin Biennale, in immersion.
What strikes first in these images is the kindness. The benevolence of these bodies floating in the liquid element, of these faces in ecstasy at being touched, carried, caressed, kissed, themselves liquefied, in tenderness.
Benevolence therefore, and clarity, in the words of the participants, of the vision they have of themselves. A vision without amenity.
Everyone feels different, be it their age, their beauty or their mobility, prisoners of their own physical or psychological limits. They say they are outside the norm, outside the circulation of desire.
Sadness, acceptance, but also joy, can be read on their faces each time what they are used to living without, namely love, is evoked, felt, exchanged: physical contact, attention to other, benevolence, signs of love since love is not for them.
The fact that the project, and the film, were conceived in Berlin by a child of the city has its significance. Berlin was, and still is, even though the city has changed, a testing ground. Its deleterious history, its eighty years of horror and destruction, of shame, of isolation in geographical and political Europe, have caused those who chose to live there and those who grew up there to refuse to to endorse the social and political organization, the patriarchal, bourgeois system, which had led to disaster and continued to prevail elsewhere.
When I arrived in Berlin in the early 2000s, that’s what struck me first. The space and time given to us to reinvent everything, starting with ourselves.
In an almost deserted city, in a desert, in short, in a harsh place, a family of freaks plays, experiments, shouts to the world it’s my body, it’s my race, it’s my sex, it’s my dead sometimes. Against exclusion, discrimination, oppression in all its forms, through activism, art, through celebration, in its truth, a new way of being and living together.
So I remember the East German love, and the streets filled only with wind, I remember Basso and the raves on the huge wastelands by the river, squats, coal apartments, bars and restaurants illegal, techno that echoed on the dance floors, in the cellars, the bunkers, the disused factories, I remember the harsh winters, the violence of May Day, the exalted spirits and the exultant bodies of the summer: an experience of freedom, of community. In a hard environment, benevolence, equality.
A model that has transformed Berlin in a few years from the least desirable city to the most watched, a city to be copied and exported.
Today, populism, war, the return of the phallus in short, have practically swept away these years of experimentation and social progress. All the progress made in the area of minority rights is now under threat. Here and there the right to abortion is called into question, laws prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality are promulgated, everywhere racist, anti-Semitic or homo/transphobic attacks are multiplying.
I hear that it’s the return of the pendulum, the reaction of a social body troubled by identity claims. Or perhaps they are the vagaries of democracy in the age of the internet, which seems to favor populist discourses and the fragmentation of society.
Will history thus become like a broken Swiss cuckoo clock, whose pendulum oscillates in reaction to crush the bird taken out of its box to sing?
II. Solaman’s Song
My name is Solaman, I am thirty-five years old and I am trans. Non-op, since I know that’s always the first question that comes to mind.
Ten years ago, I lost my sight. In a week I went from light to shade.
Was it difficult? Yes, it was a cataclysm. We get organized, we get used to it.
It is said that on my face, emotions parade like clouds in the sky. I don’t know, I can’t control it.
So, does sight control self-awareness? Try it, close your eyes long enough, the world is here. And without the image, no doubt you will feel your surroundings more strongly.
Without sight, perceptions summon associated memories and feelings. Without sight, we see in depth, in emotion.
These emotions pass over my face like cloud shadows in a sky of regrets.
Sex is also difficult. Not to mention the kisses, the sensuality.
Never tender, never intimate. All transgender people complain about it.
Look at me, I’m real, not a fantasy, not a trophy.
Listen to me, I’m sensitive, I yearn for more than your pre-scripted encounters.
And the dangers… Without sight they are increased tenfold.
I got used to it.
Sometimes on Sundays I put on a bodysuit. It’s the most comfortable thing I’ve found to go dancing.
The taxi drops me off at the entrance. The guys at the door know me and pick me up.
They make me pass the queue like a queen at her jubilee, they escort me up the grand staircase. I am seated at the end of the bar, on the last stool, my throne, and I order first an espresso, then a cocktail: Mezcal Margarita.
I let myself slowly abandon myself to the rhythm, to the sound, to the bodies and to the energies which circulate, high, around me. I feel, I hear, I remember.
Sometimes people come to talk to me. Their surprise, always, when I tell them that I don’t see them. Sometimes they stay with me, sometimes they even listen to me, sometimes they ask me to dance. And sometimes not.
I am always struck by these moments of truth, by the kindness, the humanity of these strangers that I do not see but that I feel in depth.
It doesn’t matter if their life is real or made up, it doesn’t matter their race, gender, age, money, education or beauty. As before death, we are all equal before the night.
At night, and in my darkness, differences dissolve like loneliness and time.
The only thing that matters is you, your vitality here and now.
So does sight command social conscience?
Try it, close your eyes long enough.
When I’m ready, I go dancing, accompanied or alone. Three steps from the bar to the pillar. My hand now on someone’s arm, now on the corner of the pillar.
I feel the bodies dancing around me, the energies, the desire and the joy, around me, right next to me, I see them.
And I join them. My body begins to move on its own. First the hands, then the arms, then the shoulders, soon the hips then the feet, each limb independently of the others dances with the current.
My body and my thoughts float with theirs, next to theirs, tight but never touching, like crustaceans in a wave.
And it is thus, freed from all heaviness, carried away by the sound, in the sound, that we become one: the body of the dance, the consciousness of the dance, this form of ultimate love, by all , for everyone, in the moment, in eternity, the heart of the dance in fusion.
Sometimes they come to touch me, sometimes they even kiss me. They say that I dance like a queen, that I am my own dance floor, that on my face the light, the music, like the clouds in the sky, parade.
I don’t know, I can’t control it.
What I know is that these moments, I keep them for a long time in me.
This is what allows me to hold on and move forward, without light, in the memory of the shared energy. No camera can capture such intimacy: in the fusion of the heart of the dance, the benevolence, the love of all, in freedom.
Translated from French by Amal Issa
Jean-Luc Nivaggioni studied literature and history, after which he worked as a screenwriter for film and television for several years. He is the author or co-author of ten films. In 2007, he decided to leave Paris and his job. Since then he has lived between Berlin and São Paulo, working as a writer. He is the author of a collection of texts on the end of love The wrenching, the memory, the feeling (Paris: Éditions Léo Scheer, September 2022), and is currently working on a series of character portraits in the form of songs.
For more information, contact [email protected]e-flux.com.